False Solutions to Climate Change: From “Cap and Trade” to Plastic Coating the Desert

False Solutions to Climate Change

Over the past few years, “global warming” and “climate change” have become buzzwords in mainstream political discussion. Everywhere we turn, politicians, corporations, and even some environmental groups are offering “solutions” to these very serious problems.

However, in many cases, the solutions are false ones. Many of them require no fundamental change in our lifestyles and no real sacrifice, instead allowing those of us to who live in the global north to county our living our lives as we always have through an economic model that promotes inequality and the destruction of the natural earth. We’re told not to worry and that new technology will save us. As such, these new technologies dominate the policy debate.

To counter this, Rising Tide North America–a direct action group working on climate change and climate justice-has released a new pamphlet titled “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change” that provides a critical and highly readable look at the “false solutions” that the group says are “merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.”

An Array of False Solutions

In the pamphlet, Rising Tide North America critiques a number of “false solutions” including “clean coal,” carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and biofuels. Along with these sections, it also criticizes a number of other technological solutions that have been proposed in recent years ranging from plastic coating deserts to genetically engineering trees.

A particularly useful section in light of the current global warming debate is its examination of so-called “cap and trade” systems. Under these systems:

“governments create a market commodity out of carbon pollution by issuing a finite amount of tradable pollution permits each year. As the theory goes, the amount of permits issued would decrease year to year and carbon emissions would be reduced. Because the permits are tradable, and emissions cuts are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will cut overall lowest possible cost to the economy.”

However, Rising Tide argues that this approach has not worked in Europe, calling the “European Emissions Trading Scheme” an “unmitigated failure, beset by fraud and market manipulation.” They point out that companies have over-estimated their emissions, received permits for free, and raised prices-all leading to windfall profits while doing little to address carbon emissions.

A worldwide system would allow the wealthy countries to purchase credits from the Global South to delay action, while offering no incentive to move towards a post-carbon society. At the same time, it would setup yet another poorly understood, experimental market-much like the complex trading schemes that led to the current financial crisis.

Real Solutions to Climate Change

The group argues that there needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. policy that has for centuries degraded and exploited the natural world:

“Our Southern allies believe we should respond to climate change through commitments to reduced consumption and by payment of the ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South owed from decades of resource extraction. Investment in community-led renewable energy initiatives and sustainable, small-scale agriculture infrastructure geared to meeting the right of all people to healthy food are supported, corporate development is rejected.

The climate crisis demands that we, as residents of the Global North, ask what kind of world we want to live in, and recognize that the answer is as much a social issue as it is an environmental one. Climate Justice is more than a theoretical goal–it is a practice in the movement against climate chaos. No effort to create a livable climate future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities. No justice will be found without an end to policies long-pursued by the wealthy countries which treat communities–from Iraq’s oil fields to Indonesia’s palm oil plantations to Appalachia’s coal fields–merely as resource colonies.”

To that end, the group argues that we must replace the concept of unlimited “growth” with one that prioritizes meeting human needs and sustainability.

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Levin Joining with Republicans to Stop “Cap-and-Trade” Legislation from being Added to Budget Debate

Carl Levin is Working to Pave the Way for a Possible Filibuster of the a Cap-and-Trade Bill

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin recently joined with seven other Democrats and twenty-five Republicans to prevent President Barack Obama from taking quick action on global warming.

Levin signed onto a letter opposing the use of the upcoming budget debate to pass Obama’s global warming legislation. The Senators argue that “enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy” and as such it should be voted on alone.

However, voting on the bill by itself will make it more difficult for it to pass the Senate. The bill would need to obtain 60 votes, meaning that it would likely be severely weakened in order to get the required votes to prevent a filibuster. Including it in the budget debate would require only a simple majority. The Obama administration is reportedly looking at adding it to the budget process to ensure that it would be passed.

In 2008, Levin was among ten Senators who sought to make failed global warming legislation more friendly to industry.

Earth Democracy Author, Vandana Shiva, Speaks at WMU

Activist Vandana Shiva Recently Spoke at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo

Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva spoke at Western Michigan University last Thursday on the theme of sustainability, the topic of one of her most recent books,Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.

Shiva began her talk by saying that we live in extremely important times, because the paradigm of fossil fuels consumption is killing us. She also used a comment from the founder of the Indian Satyagraha movement, Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi, when writing about the Western World, said that it “only promotes consumerism and comfort.” But, this model, according to Gandhi, is one that is self-destructive.

Corporate Globalization is a Dictatorship

Shiva then went on to talk about corporate globalization as a form of dictatorship. Corporate globalization uses force to achieve its goals as well as legal and institutional constructs such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). One example the author gave was how the global grain giant Cargill took control of the agricultural policies under the GATT/WTO. Shiva said they wrote the agreement and essentially represented the US at the international level to push through an agricultural policy that would allow them control of much of the world’s grain market.

Another way that Cargill has negatively impacted local agriculture is their dumping of soy oil on the market in India several years ago. Shiva said they were able to do this with huge subsidies, also part of the WTO agreements, which undercut the local market. People could not compete with the price of the soy oil, which was not nearly as good for human consumption as the dozens of other oils that Indians used. In response, women organized a Satyagraha campaign and made their own oil in defiance of the law.

Intellectual Property Rights and Seed Theft

The other main issue that Shiva addressed was the destructive consequences of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights were essentially an expansion of traditional property rights that included seeds, humans, and any other form of life. India had a non-patent framework for products built into their constitution, but that changed with the WTO. What this has meant is that Monsanto controlls 95% of the global seed store. Seeds–which are the ultimate regeneration resource–have now been privatized.

This control of the global seed stock is being manifested in three ways. First, corporations are using genetic modification that necessitates the use of more pesticides, most of which are manufactured by the same corporations. Second, the control of global seed stock means that these corporations can control the price of seeds. So for example, last year Monsanto raised corn seed costs from $200 a bag to $300, which meant that they profited even more off world hunger. The third way they control seed stock was to legally insert into the WTO agreements the inability of farmers to save their own seeds, thus making them dependent on companies like Monsanto to buy their seeds.

One crop where this seed control has been devastating for Indian farmers is with cotton. The GMO cotton seeds that Indian farmers are now forced to buy also require large amounts of pesticides and farmer just end up going into debt. This crisis has resulted in a great deal of resistance, but it has also meant that many Indian farmers have taken their own lives. Shiva said that over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide as a protest of the seed control. One irony with this is that the highest areas of suicide are the same area of Indian where Gandhi’s campaign of homespun cotton began, a campaign that complimented a national boycott of British made clothes from cotton.

Climate Chaos or Earth Democracy

Shiva also addressed the issue of Climate Change, which she said is an inaccurate way of naming the problem. We should call it climate chaos, because with Global Warming, weather patterns have become unpredictable and destabilizing. This, the author/activist said was due to our addiction to fossil fuels.

“We are not phasing out fossil fuels, because they are now used in agribusiness. The toxic nature of fossil fuels agribusiness is killing the soil. 40% of greenhouse gases are produced because of the way we grow and distribute food.”

Shiva believes that the only way to move away from this addiction to fossil fuels, as it relates to agriculture, is a shift to localism, “The local level is where the change must happen, with food production and energy creation. Local food systems are very important and are even an antidote for wars,” Shiva said. “Why did the US go to war in Iraq? Oil. The same is true for Afghanistan and other parts of the world.” She then said that a shift to bio-fuels is not a sustainable solution either. “If all of the corn that is grow in the US right now is used for bio-fuel it would only provide 7% of the fuel needs. So, if the appetite of resource consumption continues then wars are inevitable.”

The author/activist said that the only viable transition away from this corporate structure is what she calls earth democracy:

“The current economic system is based on theft. We have to restore our economy. I started the seed saving group Navdanya as a way of defending life. Life is to be shared, not bought and sold. The earthworm does not eat up the soil that it lives in, it enriches it. We need to catch up to these other species. We need to look to them as teachers, these species, the soil, because that is where life gets renewed. The soil is an alternative to the collapsing economy, to the fossil fuel destruction, and it is an alternative to wars.”

Shiva concluded by saying that earth democracy is different than electoral democracy because in electoral democracy you expect someone else to do it for you, but with earth democracy we must make the changes ourselves.

Headlines: U.S. Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008; Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008; Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Madoff Jailed After Guilty Plea

The billionaire financier Bernie Madoff has pleaded guilty to all eleven counts against him for his role at the helm of one of the biggest frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff entered the plea Thursday at a federal courthouse here in New York. In a ten-minute statement, Madoff said he is “deeply sorry and ashamed” for his actions. Madoff is accused of running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. He has been jailed pending a June sentencing hearing, where he faces up to 150 years in prison. Several former Madoff clients who lost their life’s savings were among the hundreds in attendance. Applause broke out in the courtroom when the judge announced Madoff would await his sentencing in jail.

Madoff victim Burt Ross: “Oh, sure. Tremendous satisfaction when they put the cuffs on him. That’s justice. We don’t live by mob rule. I was concerned that people would be yelling and shouting. There was none of that. It was a dignified courtroom.”

An attorney for a group of former Madoff clients, Rob Intelisano, said unanswered questions remain.

Rob Intelisano: “I think they’re satisfied that he’s going to jail immediately. I think they would have been happy to hear a little bit more about, you know, what happened, how long the fraud took place, who else was involved, whether the family members were involved. I mean, you could tell that Madoff was clearly trying to protect the family and his own employees in his elocution.”

Fed: US Families Lost Record 18% of Wealth in 2008

A new government report says American families lost a record-high amount of wealth last year. According to the Federal Reserve, American families in 2008 cumulatively lost 18 percent of their wealth. The losses amount to $11 trillion, equal to the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the UK. As losses add up, debt is also skyrocketing. Mortgages and credit card debt now amount to $13 trillion, or 123% of after-tax income. In 1995, debt amounted to 83 percent of income.

Report: Global Warming Inaction Could Cost 1/3 of World GDP

The author of an authoritative study on climate change says he underestimated the dangers of global warming. In 2006, the British economist Lord Stern wrote the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which argued the costs of fighting climate change would amount to one percent of annual global GDP by 2050. By contrast, the report said the cost of doing nothing would amount to up to 20 percent of world GDP. But speaking at a UN meeting in Copenhagen, Stern revised the latter figure, saying the cost of inaction could be up to a third of the world’s wealth.

US Restores Funding to UN Population Fund

Among the measures in this week’s omnibus spending bill is a provision reversing the Bush administration’s ban on funding for the UN Population Fund. Funding ceased in 2002 with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, which restricts money for organizations that counsel, provide or advocate for abortions. With President Obama’s signing of the spending bill on Wednesday, the US will provide the fund with a $50 million commitment. UN Population Fund director Thoraya Obaid hailed the new US stance.

Thoraya Obaid: “We warmly applaud this action by President Obama. This is a much, much needed support. It will contribute to UNFPA’s ongoing effort to support governments to decrease maternal mortality, improve maternal health, and prevent HIV/AIDS. Certainly, this funding will advance the health and rights of women in all countries all around the globe. We’re very happy to receive this money.”

Spending Bill Moves US Toward Cluster Ban

The spending bill also includes a provision that will move the US toward a ban on cluster bombs. Under new rules, US military weapons must now have a self-destruct failure rate of less than one percent, a standard few cluster bombs can achieve.

US Attack Kills 18 in Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least eighteen people have been killed and another fifty wounded in an apparent US missile attack. A Pakistani security official said the victims were al-Qaeda militants and operatives. The attack occurred in the tribal area of Kurram near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Defying Crackdown, Pakistanis Begin Protest March

In other news from Pakistan, opposition activists are vowing to intensify protests despite a heavy government crackdown. The Pakistani government banned public gatherings in two key provinces and jailed hundreds of people ahead of a protest against President Asif Ali Zardari. On Thursday, demonstrators began a march from the city of Karachi to Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of several dismissed judges.

Obama Extends Iran Sanctions

President Obama has extended a section of US sanctions against Iran for at least another year. Thursday was Obama’s deadline to extend or end restrictions barring US companies from involvement in the Iranian oil industry and blocking trade and investment ties.

US Complains to Israel on Gaza Blockade

The US has again complained to Israel over the blockade of aid supplies to the Gaza Strip. The State Department agency USAID says Israel has prevented goods including jam, toothpaste and toilet paper. On Thursday, Israel rejected a shipment of tuna, canned meat, diapers, wet wipes, sterile gauze, blankets, candles and flashlights.

Hamas Criticizes Rocket Attacks

In other news from Gaza, the Hamas government has criticized recent rocket attacks at nearby Israeli towns. In a statement, Hamas said the rockets have not been fired by its resistance fighters and vowed to find those responsible. The Israeli government cited Palestinian rocket fire as the reason for its assault on Gaza, even though it was Israel that broke the ceasefire with a deadly November 4th attack. The news comes as a leading Palestinian human rights group has officially increased its count of the Palestinian death toll from the Gaza assault. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says 1,434 Palestinians were killed, up from the previous toll of 1,300. The center says 960 of the dead were civilians.

Doctors Without Borders Withdraws Remaining Darfur Aid Workers After Kidnapping

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Border says it’s begun withdrawing remaining workers in Darfur after the kidnapping of three staff members. Three of the group’s five field operations had remained active despite the Sudanese government’s expulsion of aid workers following the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last week. But Doctors Without Borders director Christopher Stokes said a new round of kidnappings have forced its complete withdrawal.

Christopher Stokes: ”As a consequence of this kidnapping, given the deteriorating security conditions in Darfur, the remaining MSF sections, knowing that two Medecins Sans Frontieres sections had been expelled last week, but the remaining three–Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium, Switzerland and Spain–who had had full authorization to continue working providing life-saving assistance, have also decided to withdraw their teams, not because they’ve been expelled, but because of the security conditions for the moment are so unclear and don’t allow us to remain in the field.”

US Opposes Harm Reduction at UN Drug Talks

In Vienna, UN talks over a new global strategy to combat illegal drugs have ended in a gridlock between the US and several other nations. The US led opposition to inclusion of “harm reduction” in the final document for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Several countries say they’ll interpret the document to condone harm reduction anyway. Harm reduction measures include methadone clinics and needle exchange programs for heroin users. On Thursday, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs head Antonio Maria Costa said anti-drug programs must approach addiction through a range of social and medical factors.

Antonio Maria Costa: “What do we have in mind for health? Well, certainly we have in mind recognizing–and member states are doing so, growingly, but not all yet–that a drug addiction is a health condition, is a vulnerable condition, is physical, is psychological, is emotional, perhaps is contextual–low income, being at the margin of society, family conditions. It has to be dealt with as an illness, and therefore it has to be dealt with by doctors and not by policemen.”

The US has been widely criticized for its longtime resistance to decriminalization and treatment-based alternatives.

GOPers Threaten Salvadorans over Election Outcome

Back in the United States, two Republican lawmakers have issued threats over the outcome of Sunday’s national elections in El Salvador. On Thursday, Republican Congress members Trent Franks of Arizona and Dan Burton of Indiana said Salvadorans living in the US could lose their immigration status and the right to send remittances home if the leftist FMLN party wins the vote. Polls indicate the FMLN will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has long had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.

RNC Chair Apologizes for Apparent Pro-Choice Stance

Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele is coming under criticism from members of his own party after taking an apparent pro-choice stance on abortion. In a new interview with GQ magazine, Steele refers to abortion as an “individual choice.” Steele released an immediate retraction, saying, “I tried to present why I am pro-life while recognizing that my mother had a ‘choice’ before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life.” It’s the second time in as many weeks Steele has backtracked over comments that drew Republican ire. Last week, Steele apologized to right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after the two engaged in a public fight over the leadership of the Republican Party.

Cuomo, Lawmakers Mull Plan to Link Exec Pay to Performance

The Wall Street Journal is reporting New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is in talks with lawmakers on a plan to condition Wall Street pay on how well a firm performs. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank has voiced support for the proposal.

Study: Half of Infant Products Contain Carcinogens

And a new study says more than half of leading name-brand infant care products contain dangerous levels carcinogenic chemicals. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, products including Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Baby Magic lotion tested positive for one or both of dioxane and formaldehyde. The chemicals are not active ingredients but instead a byproduct of the manufacturing process.

Explosive Growth in Number of Lobbyists Seeking to Influence Climate Legislation

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In recent years, the number of lobbyists seeking to influence federal legislation on global warming has grown at an incredible pace. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the number of lobbyists have increased 300% in the paste five years. Now, more than 770 companies and organizations are represented by some 2,340 lobbyists seeking to represent their clients’ views on the issue, spending over $90 million.

With the Obama administration pledging action on global warming, it will have to contend with lobbyists advocating a wide variety of policies, some of which are antithetical to those of other lobbyists.

Major Lobbyists

There are several major lobbyists seeking to have their clients’ interests represented in any legislation aimed at targeting global warming. Moreover, they include former members of Congress and Congressional staffers.

The make-up of lobbyists is also changing from the past debates on global warming. In 2003 when the U.S. Senate first voted on climate-related legislation, 150 business and interest groups were opposed by just 8 environmental groups. Now, a wide variety of groups–likely recognizing that some form of legislation is increasingly likely–are seeking to shape it to their benefit.

The Center for Public Integrity has produced a chart showing the sectors lobbying on the legislation:

030309-chart_lobbyists.gif

Manufacturers–many of whom like the coal industry group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity–are seeking government money to develop technologies to address global warming.

Carbon Markets

Among Obama’s plans to curb global warming is the development of a market-placed cap on carbon pollution. Under such a “cap-and-trade” system, companies would see their carbon emissions “capped” at a certain level. If they reduced their emissions more than that cap, they would be able to sell excess emissions credits to companies that are not able to reduce their pollution as quickly.

A number of major financial companies–JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Merrill Lynch–are all seeking involvement in such a market, which the federal government estimates could grow to $2 trillion within five years.

Lobbyists Present Potential Problems, but Also Show Opportunities

The Center for Public Integrity and many environmental groups caution that lobbyists could derail a new agreement to fight global warming, either by defeating it outright or watering it down with compromises between the numerous factions seeking to shape the debate.

However, the fact that there are so many lobbyists on the issue also means that Congress is finally taking it seriously. This means that there is a potential for making progress and it also shows how the issue has moved from the margins to the center of political debate.

Global Warming for Dummies

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Honestly, I was quite surprised by this book. When I first saw it, I wasn’t really expecting that much. Perhaps it was due to my own impressions, but I just always associate the “For Dummies” series with books on how to use computers–not comprehensive introductions to scientific and political issues.

That said, Global Warming For Dummies is a solid introduction to global warming. The book looks at the science behind global warming, the causes, and potential solutions. Unlike much of what is seen in the media, there is no attempt to “balance” the discussion on global warming and the book gives no space to the arguments of so-called “skeptics” who doubt the reality of global warming, instead offering only a list of ten common arguments cited by skeptics and explanations why those arguments are wrong.

One of the major strengths of the book is that presents the science on global warming in an easy to understand format, even for those without strong science backgrounds. The science in the book is based on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (http://www.ipcc.ch/), which is a synthesis of all current science on global warming. It is on this basis that the book rejects the arguments of global warming skeptics, as the IPCC has stated that there is a 95% certainty that humans are causing global warming. The book looks at causes of global warming, explains greenhouses gasses, looks at sources of emissions, and examines other related topics. This is all presented in a clear and concise manner, with ample illustrations to help reinforce and explain the key points.

Along with the discussion of the science and an explanation of the problem of global warming, the book spends a fair amount of time looking at the potential solutions. It discusses global attempts to address the problem–for example the Kyoto Protocol–as well as efforts made by individual countries or groups of countries (i.e. the European Union). It also talks about efforts undertaken by mayors and governors. Global Warming for Dummies looks at political solutions–such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs–as well as technological solutions that can be used to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Throughout these discussions, the book is critical where it needs to be and emphasizes the need–as argued by the IPCC–for substantial cuts to emissions.

In addition to the focus on large-scale emissions, the book includes a wealth of information on individual actions that can be taken to lessen global warming. Much of this focuses on the usual–reducing the amount we drive, conserving energy, and other common ideas–but there is also the occasional surprise, such as encouraging people to consume less meat (a major contributor to deforestation and methane emissions). It includes this without over-emphasizing individual ways of addressing global warming, which is a common trap that many environmental books fall into.

Overall, this is one of the more readable introductions to the topic of global warming. Global Warming for Dummies succeeds in making complex science easy to understand, inspires people to take further action, and provides a number of annotated lists of additional resources.

Elizabeth May and Zoe Caron, Global Warming For Dummies, (For Dummies, 2008).

Headlines: Carbon Emissions Higher than Projected; Pakistan Criticizes US Attacks

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan Soared in 2008

The United Nations has announced the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan last year jumped by nearly 40 percent as the violence in the country soared to its worst levels since 2001. There were over 2,100 reported civilian deaths. The UN said militants were to blame for 55 percent of the deaths, while US-led forces were responsible for nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, 3,000 more US troops have arrived in Afghanistan, marking the first wave of an expected surge of US forces as part of President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke: India, Pakistan Face Serious Threat

Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to South Asia, said Monday that India and Pakistan face one of the most serious security threats since the end of British rule sixty-two years ago as Islamist militants advance toward Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Holbrooke’s comment came after the Pakistani government announced it would allow Islamic or sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley region as part of a peace accord with the Taliban. The Swat Valley is located just 155 miles northwest of Islamabad. On Sunday, Pakistani President Ali Zardari admitted the Taliban was now present in huge amounts of Pakistan.

Pakistan Condemns US Drone Attacks

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the recent US drone attacks that have killed sixty people in Pakistan over the past four days.

Yousaf Raza Gilani: “As far as drone attacks are concerned, my firm belief is that it is counterproductive and not in the interest of the country. Wherever there has been a drone attack in the past, we have condemned it, and I condemn this one today. As for their policy and when it will change, policies are changing all over the world. The people voted Obama in because they wanted a change, so I am sure he will review his policies.”

Obama to Sign $787 Billion Stimulus Bill in Denver

President Obama plans to sign the $787 billion economic stimulus bill today during a ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The site was picked in part because its roof has 465 solar panels. Invitees to the ceremony include 250 clean-energy business leaders and community stakeholders.

Layoff Notices for 20,000 California Workers Sent Out

In other economic news, California plans to send notices to 20,000 state workers today that their jobs may be eliminated due to budget cuts. The announcement came a day after California lawmakers failed to pass a $40 billion budget that would have plugged the state’s deficit with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.

Kansas May Be Unable to Pay State Workers

In Kansas, the state has suspended income tax refunds and may not be able to pay employees on time, because the state doesn’t have enough money in its main bank account to pay its bills.

Clinton Says Don’t Blame Him for the Economic Crisis

Former President Bill Clinton said Monday he should not take any blame for the current financial crisis. Clinton’s comment came during an interview with Ann Curry on the Today Show.

Ann Curry: “You know, this week I’ve been reading this article in Time magazine that lists you as number thirteen as–on the list of who to blame for our current economic crisis in the United States. Should you be thirteen on the list, is what I’m asking.”

President Clinton: “Oh, no. Well, let me ask you this. And my question to them is, did any of them seriously believe if I had been president and my economic team had been in place the last eight years, that this would be happening today? And I think they know the answer to that’s wrong. No.”

Time magazine had criticized Clinton for repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which for decades had separated commercial and investment banking, and for signing the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted from federal regulation all derivatives, including the now notorious credit-default swaps.

Senior Military Officers Probed for Corruption in Iraq

The New York Times reports federal authorities are now investigating senior US military officers on corruption charges connected to the $125 billion US-led reconstruction effort in Iraq. Last month, investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of retired Army Colonel Anthony Bell, who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Hirtle, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004. It is unclear how much reconstruction money went missing, but The Independent of London reports it could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, a bigger theft than Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

US Soldier Court-Martial Begins in Germany

In other Iraq news, a US soldier is being court-martialed today for his alleged involvement in killing four Iraqi prisoners who were bound, blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal in 2007. Sgt. Michael Leahy faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.

Law Panel: US War on Terror Has Eroded Human Rights Worldwide

International law experts said Monday Washington’s so-called “war on terror” has eroded human rights worldwide, creating lingering cynicism that the United Nations must now combat. Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that harsh US detentions and interrogations gave a dangerous signal to other countries that could easily follow suit. Robinson said sweeping changes need to take place to ensure Washington abandons its “war paradigm.”

Mary Robinson: “I think it’s important to be aware that the Bush administration’s damage has been recognized by the subsequent administration, and that, in a way, plays to the lessons learned that we’ve talked about in relation to Northern Ireland, in relation to parts of South America in the past. We are not made more secure by the measures that have been taken, and I think that’s the real message that we will try to bring to the United States and to other countries.”

Newsweek: Report Will Blast Bush Lawyers on Torture Opinions

Newsweek reports an internal Justice Department report that has sharply criticized the conduct of senior Bush administration lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. The draft report reportedly focuses on John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury.

Israel Seizes 425 Acres in West Bank for New Settlement Homes

Israel has seized 425 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank in order to build 2,500 new homes as part of a major expansion of the Efrat settlement. This settlement is particularly sensitive given that it would help complete a ring of hilltop settlements in Efrat that threaten to cut Arab East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and undermine prospects that East Jerusalem could serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

British Lawmakers Accuse Israel of Committing War Crimes

Meanwhile, a team of British lawmakers arrived in Gaza on Monday to conduct a fact-finding visit following Israel’s twenty-two-day attack on Gaza.

British MP Edward Davey: “I think we need to get a clear message to the Israeli government, whoever it turns out to be: this sort of thing is just unacceptable. There has to be an international investigation into this, because it seems to me that war crimes have been committed.”

Trial of Khmer Rouge Leader Begins in Cambodia

In Cambodia, the first UN-backed trial of a former Khmer Rouge leader has begun. On trial is Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch. He headed a notorious prison camp and is accused of presiding over the murder and torture of at least 15,000 inmates. The trial comes thirty years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It marks the first time a leading figure of the Khmer Rouge has gone on trial.

UN Calls for “Global Green New Deal”

The United Nations is calling on rich nations to forge a “Global Green New Deal” that puts the environment, climate change and poverty reduction at the heart of efforts to reboot the world economy. At a meeting in Kenya, the United Nations Environment Program said Leaders from the Group of 20 nations should commit at least one percent of gross domestic product over the next two years to slashing carbon emissions.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNEP: “Our meeting this year takes place against the backdrop of the most serious economic recession in a generation, some would say perhaps even longer. The traditional response to economic recession when addressing environmental issues is that essentially economic recession is a detraction from attention to environmental imperatives to act.”

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki also spoke at the UN meeting in Nairobi.

Mwai Kibaki: “Environmental degradation continues to undermine the prospects of fighting poverty and the realization of high economic growth and sustainable development, particularly in many developing countries.”

Scientists: Carbon Emissions Growing Faster than Projected

Climate researchers have found worldwide carbon emissions have grown sharply since 2000, despite growing concern of global warming. During the 1990s, carbon emissions grew by less than one percent per year. Since 2000, emissions have grown at a rate of 3.5 percent per year. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008. Climate scientist Christopher Field says the largest factor in this increase is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source.

Two Arrested at Mountaintop Coal Removal Site in West Virginia

In related news, environmental activists here in this country are intensifying efforts to stop the construction of new coal power plants and to end the practice of mountaintop coal removal. In West Virginia, two members of the group Climate Ground Zero were arrested Monday for interfering with mountaintop removal at a site owned by Massey Energy. On March 2, a coalition of environmental groups are planning to stage a large demonstration at the Capitol Coal Plant in Washington, D.C., in what is expected to be the largest civil disobedience on climate change in US history.

400 Stations to Shut Off Analog Signals Tonight

And at midnight tonight, more than 400 television stations across the country plan to shut off their analog signals and begin airing only digital programming, despite a vote in Congress to delay the transition from analog to digital broadcasts until June. The major broadcast networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC/Telemundo, have agreed that the stations they own and operate would continue to broadcast in analog until June but that affiliate stations could choose when to switch. An estimated 6.5 million households are unprepared for the “digital transition.” Elderly, Latino and low-income households are believed to be most affected.

Study: Global Warming Impacts Largely Irreversible

Global Warming Impacts Are Largely Irreversible Even If CO2 Emissions Stopped Immediately

A new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concludes that impacts from global warming are largely irreversible for the next 1,000 years.

The study finds that even if CO2 emissions were somehow stopped immediately, changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level “are “largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after CO2 emissions are completely stopped.”

Lead researcher Susan Soloman said:

“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years.”

Among the changes that can be expected are rising sea levels and decreases in rainfall that last for centuries. Such decreases could lead to decreased human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change, and expanded deserts.

For the United States, the report specifically mentions the possibility of droughts in the Southwest that would rival the so-called “Dustbowl” of the 1930s.

Near Unanimous Opposition to Proposed Coal Burning Power Plant in Holland at DEQ Public Hearing

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Last night the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) opened a two-day public hearing on the proposed coal burning power plant for Holland, Michigan. The plant would cost an estimated $240 million without including the sequestering of carbon produced by the plant.

Before the public was invited to speak, a representative from the DEQ said that they are not interested in how many are for and against the proposed power plant, rather they want to make their decision based on whether or not the power plant would meet “air quality standards.”

Limited Support for the Plant

About 100 people attended the public hearing, but only thirty people offered public comments. Of those thirty, only three were in favor of the proposed power plant.

The Mayor of Holland expressed support and stated that the “coal that will be used for the Holland plant is from states out West,” since he wanted to avoid any association with the negative publicity around coal ash pollution generally associated with coal mining in eastern states. The only other supporters were a volunteer for the Holland Board of Public Works and a resident of Holland.

Extensive Opposition to the Plant: Concerns over Pollution Common

A steady stream of Holland residents stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to the proposed power plant. Many of them expressed concern over pollution, particularly air pollution that will contribute to increased asthma. One woman, who says she suffers from asthma, was convinced that her asthma is a direct result of the existing coal burning power plant based in Holland. A senior citizen who can see the smokestacks from the current power plant says that he and the other senior citizens “are at risk of contracting respiratory problems” because of their proximity to the coal burning plant. Other Holland residents said that renewable energy should be promoted and produced and that the City of Holland should advocate for a reduction of energy consumption by the residents and businesses of the community.

People from other areas of Ottawa County also expressed opposition to the proposed power plant, as well as people who came from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A woman with the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids was concerned about the carbon emissions and their contribution to global warming. She felt that “there needed to be a radical change to how we produce energy” and that the proposed plant will only contribute to the growing problem. Another woman expressed her opposition to the power plant, said she spoke “as a mother who has breast fed her children”, and believes that the toxins produced from such a power plant would be bad for all children and nursing mothers.

Environmental Groups Voice Opposition

Several speakers during the hearing were from environmental groups throughout the state. One woman from the Ecology Center addressed concerns about asthma and other air pollution concerns. She argued that data shows many people have died from air pollution, others suffer asthma problems, and thousands of work-days have been lost from people being sick due to air pollution generated from coal burning power plants.

Several members of a local chapter of the Earth Institute and the Sierra Club also spoke against the proposed power plant. The State Director of the Sierra Club said that CO2 regulation is the main issue, even though the DEQ does not include CO2 emissions when making determinations about air quality. She said that Governor Granholm has spoken out for reduction of CO2, but that the Climate Action Council, which is making recommendations on this issue, is made up of “too many special interest groups, not scientists.”

Jan O’Connell with the Sierra Club said that the claim from the Holland Board of Public Works that the existing power plant meets current air quality standards isn’t true. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated both Ottawa and Kent Counties as non-attainment sites meaning there are unacceptable levels of air pollution and particulates for those two counties. O’Connell said that the permit should be denied based on the EPA finding.

Indigenous Community Lends Powerful Voice Against the Plant

Possibly the most compelling speakers during the public hearing were from the Native American community. Each of the Native speakers addressed the issue of mercury contamination that comes with coal burning and said that it disproportionately impacts Native people since they eat more local fish–much of which have high levels of mercury in Michigan. Another Native speaker criticized the DEQ for not conducting “an environmental justice assessment” and said that they felt like this was another example of how the government “does care about the well being of native people.” One Native speaker read from a copy of the permit request and read some of the “allowable” chemicals that the proposed coal burning plant would produce. He said that there are four pages consisting solely of chemicals that the proposed power plant would produce and asked, “How can any of these chemicals be good for our children and future generations?”

Opportunity for Further Public Comment

The public can submit comments to the Michigan DEQ up until January 30 on the proposed power plant for Holland.

You can submit comments through the DEQ or through Clean Energy Now.

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Environmental activist Vandana Shiva’s newest book–Soil Not Oil–is an excellent resource for those who are serious about not just averting a larger global climate crisis, but for those who want to preserve living communities of bio-diversity. Shiva’s examination of the inter-connected global climate, energy, and food crises offers a refreshing perspective on the debate about global warming.

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

With all the trendy “green consumerism” and corporate green-washing that dictates so much of current discourse around environmentalism, it is important that we examine independent perspectives on the severity of the world’s ecological crisis.

Vandana Shiva has provided a fresh and independent perspective for more than two decades now as she has confronted how we think about environmentalism by writing books about water, seeds, global trade policies, and patriarchy’s relationship to the natural world. In her most recent book Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, the Indian activist provides needed analysis for those of us who might be duped by the market approach to environmental justice.

Shiva argues that the world is faced with three fundamental global crises: global warming, energy use/depletion and food. The author believes that these three issues are inter-connected, therefore how we respond as a global community with any of these issues will impact the other two. Soil Not Oil does not just address those three issues, it provides an analysis and challenge to those of us in the US who think we have the best approach to solving the climate, energy and food crises.

For example, the business community has primarily dominated the response to global warming in the US, much of which has been supported by the ideas put forth by Al Gore. Shiva argues that these “solutions” are imperialist in nature since they dictate what the poorer countries of the world should do. This imperialist response by rich countries is best demonstrated by the idea of carbon trading. Carbon trading allows the biggest polluting nations and corporations to transfer their pollution onto other nations and communities by investing in “green” technology abroad. Shiva believes that the market should not be deciding how to deal with something so crucial as climate change and suggests that carbon trading is a false solution since “it does not begin with policies and laws that protect and support the nonpolluting patterns of production, distribution and consumption.”

Carbon trading will in effect mean that the big polluters will be subsidized to continue to pollute, because “slightly greener” companies can sell their carbon credits to the worst polluters. This market solution provides no real incentive for developing truly sustainable ways of production, which is why Shiva believes that the nuclear industry has been cashing in on the global warming frenzy. Nuclear power has received the support of politicians and some environmental groups despite the fact that the uranium mining that is done in order for nuclear power to work is highly toxic and unsustainable.

When discussing energy use, Vandana Shiva focuses on the cost of car use in her home country of Indian. With the increase in personal auto transportation on the rise in countries like India, it not only increases the global demands of oil production, it has resulted in increased deaths and road construction. The new road construction throughout India has primarily impacted India’s rural farming communities, communities that have lost their land and their livelihood.

This shift to greater car production and use in countries like India has meant less land for food, the third major crisis that Shiva tackles in Soil Not Oil. Not only does road and parking lot construction take away precious land from small farmers, it necessitates that more land is used for bio-fuels to power the machines. This has resulted in less land for food production and high prices for basic food staples. Those of us in the US have experienced increased in the cost of basic grains, but this increase in global food prices has hit people harder in countries like India. So why bio-fuels are presented as a green fuel it has actually caused more environmental destruction and poverty.

Shiva believes that the market-based solutions that the rich nations have adopted in responding to the global climate/energy/food crisis has and will only make things worse. The author believes that the power to make decisions about food and energy should be put in the hands of smaller communities, decisions that she believes would be more sustainable. Shiva cites numerous examples in India where people have created their own seed banks to promote traditional grains like millet, which is more nutritious and sustainable to grow. When local communities have control over the most fundamental resources such as food and energy production there is a greater chance that the issue of how it impact that community will be central to the decision making process, unlike when corporations or nation states impose their decisions on communities.

Soil Not Oil concludes with the author appealing to the idea encompassed in the Indian work Shakti, which means the “capacity to do” or “to have power.” When local communities have the capacity and the power to determine the futures, a future that is not driven by external market forces, only then can the world overcome the global climate crisis we are faced with. Soil Not Oil is an excellent resource for those who are serious about not just averting a larger global climate crisis, but for those who want to preserve living communities of bio-diversity.

Vandana Shiva, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, (South End Press, 2008).